‘Ali Smith writes about memory and truth and belief and delusion and nature and protest and distance and disbelief and lies and the possibility at once for both hope and sadness.’ These are the notes I scrawled into my notebook in a coffee shop on Saturday morning. I was up early for a rubbish reason and had carried Winter around with me in my bag all week yet barely started it. I left later on having read it furiously to the end.
Let me start by saying that I am a big Ali Smith fan. If you met me at any point during my final year of university, you probably saw the anguish on my face as I told you about how badly my dissertation was doing or fell asleep as I raved on about Hotel World and There but for the.
An act of gross cruelty or injustice that occurs in Manchura or Dunzig is as much an Englishman’s concern now, as if it occurred in Nigeria or Cardiff.”
H.G. Wells wrote the manifesto, ‘The Declaration of the Rights of Man’, in 1940 as a response to what he felt was the vacuum of reason as to why the Second World War was taking place. Urging authorities to make plain the rationale behind sending people off to fight yet another war, he and his cohorts set out just under ten clauses which all authorities globally could agree upon as the end goal, the ultimate society. These ideas would ultimately contribute to the Declaration of Human Rights by the UN in 1948. He also formed and support PEN, a society formed of international writers who were dedicated to the freedom to read for all, and the National Council for Civil Liberties, now known as Liberty, an independent council that campaigns for human rights issues in the UK.
I’ll be honest, I picked up this book because Ali Smith wrote the introduction to the Penguin reissue in 2015 and I’ve apparently made it my lifelong goal to read everything she’s ever written. It was £5 and I bought it from Lighthouse Radical Bookshop in Edinburgh. It seemed like a good fit. But why, in 2017, would a text written in 1940 about human rights still be perceived as progressive now?
This book made me cry on the train there and back again.
I’d previously read Reasons to Stay Alive, Haig’s non-fiction book about his own experiences with depression. Suffering from mental illness or poor mental health often produces more introspection, more obsession with both ourselves, but also makes us question why it is everyone around us seems content with trundling on, ignoring the end of all things and the fact that no one really knows the point of our existence.
My mum likes to pull out pages from the newspaper that she thinks I’ll be interested in. She usually sends a sort of blurry photo over Whatsapp where I can kind of make out a dog wearing sunglasses or something to do with Doctor Who. This time however it was a Harry Potter quiz with extremely obscure questions since the 20th anniversary of the publication of Philosopher’s Stone was a few days ago. (21 points could be won – I got 16 5/6ths.)
To the intern who put this together’s credit, the questions were pretty challenging and I couldn’t for the life of me remember Nearly Headless Nick’s full name. Whilst answering these questions it occurred to me how much useless detail about this book series I had gathered and stored away in a filing cabinet in my brain somewhere. How often for example am I going to be using the answer to the first question, who was Harry Potter’s babysitter, and for the bonus point, what is a squib? Arabella Figg and her inability to use magic despite being wizard-born seems lovely but she’s hardly going to help me on my CV.
I finished Nasty Women on the train to meet my family for a day out and on the way back, my sister complained about always being bored on trains. I handed her Nasty Women and told her to read it. She read the first four essays on the train and asked me what intersectional feminism was so I count that as a supreme success.